If you’ve ever looked at a recipe for Duck Confit and got confused at what exactly the process of confit really is, you wouldn’t be the only one. The instructions say to cover the meat in oil and cook it, which sounds exactly like deep frying, so what exactly is going on?
Confit differs from deep frying in one crucial way: temperature. When we deep fry a food, the temperature of the oil is usually between 160°C to 220°C, while the food is cooked at a far lower oil temperature when we confit it, around 90°C or lower.
Where Does Confit Come From?
The word confit comes from the French word “confire,” which means “to preserve.” Traditionally, confit referred to any preserved food item, irrespective of whether it was meat, vegetables, or fruit. This preservation was achieved by slowly cooking food in a liquid that is inhospitable to the growth of bacteria. If it was meat or vegetables, it would be cooked in fat, and fruit was cooked in concentrated sugar syrup. Once the food was cooked, it would be packed into containers where the food was completely submerged in the liquid, creating a barrier that prevented any bacteria from growing. This would ensure that the food could be stored for a very long time; in fact, confit fruit is known to last for years.
While confit was created simply as a way to preserve meat and food at a time when refrigeration didn’t exist, it has now evolved to become a method used because when done right, can make food taste delicious.
How Do I Confit Something?
This takes us back to the first question about figuring out the difference between deep frying and the process of confit. When deep frying, the aim is to get a crunchy outer layer, which is achieved by cooking at a high temperature. The high temperature results in any liquid in the food being quickly expelled from it quite quickly by converting it instantly to steam. The food is served immediately to prevent the crisp layer from getting soggy.
In the case of confit, the temperature is kept very low and the cooking time is far longer. Cold or room temperature fat is poured over the food item and placed in a very low temperature oven, at say 120-135°C. The temperature of the fat remains low, never going above 90°C, which is hot enough to break down any tough connective tissue, but not hot enough to result in any liquid evaporation. The meat and vegetables cook and get tender with essentially no loss of moisture or flavour.
What kind of food is best suited to confit?
Confit can be applied to any kind of meat that has a lot of connective tissue. So duck and goose legs are seen quite often, but pork belly and pork shoulder also break down beautifully when confit.
Alliums like garlic and onions would take less time to confit, about an hour, but they would be great if confit as well.